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Last updated: April 19, 2012 6:37 pm
Two members of the Force India motor racing team are to leave Bahrain after the team was caught up in a firebomb incident, raising fears of violence ahead of Sunday’s grand prix.
A Molotov cocktail was thrown near a hire car carrying four of Force India’s technicians on the outskirts of the Bahraini capital on Wednesday evening. No-one in the Force India car was injured, but one of the technicians in the vehicle and another member of the team have requested, and been allowed, to leave Bahrain. There is no evidence that the Force India team had been targeted.
Race organisers are pressing on with preparations for Sunday’s race though activists seeking to oust Bahrain's monarchy have threatened “days of rage” to coincide with the race.
Bahrain has been in turmoil since a democracy movement erupted more than a year ago after uprisings across the Arab world. The protests were crushed when Saudi troops marched in to back a government crackdown. The minority Sunni-led government has said it is reforming but the opposition, led by the majority Shia, says change has been too slow.
The Bahrain International Circuit described the Force India incident as isolated “involving a handful of illegal protesters acting violently towards police”. In a statement, it said the usual precautions were being taken around the track to maintain security.
Ala’a Shehabi, an opposition activist, said the team appears to have been caught in the crossfire between pro-democracy protesters and the security forces. “The F1 has become a divisive focal point – as expected, the authorities are having to lock down the country for the grand prix to go ahead,” she said.
On Thursday, there were reports of police firing teargas and stun grenades at protesters chanting slogans against the planned grand prix. A Financial Times reporter was among several journalists refused visas to enter the kingdom on Thursday.
Protesters plan to block the main road leading to the BIC on Friday – when the first of two days of qualifying practice take place, Exclusive Analysis, a UK-based risk consultancy, said.
Last year’s race was called off at the behest of the teams because of civil unrest. But the Fédération Internationale de L’Automobile, motorsport’s governing body, has said safety conditions have improved sufficiently to enable the race to go ahead.
James Allen, BBC Radio Five Live’s F1 commentator and a Financial Times contributor, said there was heightened security measures in place and F1 teams were travelling in convoy between the capital and the Bahrain International Circuit, which is a 20-minute drive from Manama. “There is an uneasy calm in the paddock,” Mr Allen said. “There are people who would rather not be here but professionally they haven’t got a choice.”
Some television crews have chosen not to make the trip to Bahrain.
British MPs launched a petition in the UK parliament calling on the race to be abandoned. But Hugh Robertson, the UK government’s sports minister, said that was a decision for the FIA.
Additional reporting by Simeon Kerr
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